We Made Some Mistakes Along the Way Series: Leaving the Nest, Part 1

Reader Contribution by Jennifer Dickinson
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This is the third installment of the We Some Mistakes Along the Way homesteading blog series. Find all installments here.

After moving around my whole adult life and spending a significant amount of time deployed in a tent with the Army, I decided it was time to buy a house and put down some roots. So, soon after returning from Iraq, my boyfriend and I bought our first house in the city/suburbs near Trenton, New Jersey.

Renovating Our First Home

Together we took someone else’s home and made it our own. We knocked down walls, renovated and added bathrooms, even blew out the roof line to expand the two upstairs bedrooms. We put in new floors, new windows, painted, gardened, and built our first chicken coop. Most things we did ourselves, some we hired out for, some we begged stole and borrowed time and talents from friends and family. I was surprised to find that for the first time in my life I wanted to stay home and work on projects instead of going out to party and have fun. This was my new fun. Friends and family commented on “how domestic I’d become.”  I never considered myself “domestic,” but I didn’t care what you called it. I was making my home and I loved it. Eventually Dave and I got married, and would go on to do many more projects together. I was unaware at the time that I was nesting, and I did this for years before having our first child.

What do you mean it’s too small?

All the while, unbeknownst to me (or maybe knownst and ignored) my husband was outgrowing our beautiful nest that we had worked so hard to create. So, while I was filling our home with love for our new child, Dave was planning a new homestead for our family. We finally discussed this in my third of fourth month of pregnancy. I could see his point – we both wanted our kids to live close to nature, be able to run freely (and safely) outside, and he had about 1,000 plans for things he wanted to build. I held out for several weeks, but had to admit our neighborhood was going downhill. I believe the last straw was when our shed was broken into, our bikes and multiple power tools were stolen. Up and down the street, people’s tires were getting punctured, and windows broken to steal change out of the ashtray. So, in about my fifth month of pregnancy I finally entertained my husband’s plea to look at this beautiful homestead in the country he had been eyeing for months.

Catch: it was a fixer upper. A big time, falling apart, full of mold, formerly used as a trash dump fixer upper that had sat on the market for about two years. “The value is in the land” the realtors say. Yeah. If you could get past all the trash and neglect. But there was no mistaking it, it really was beautiful. It sat on 11 acres that backed up to a brook and miles of preserved hiking trails and horse farms.

You want me to move into what?!

I have to admit, I fell in love with it, too. So, we made an offer. Then we had to get ready to sell my nest. Then, find ways to finance the property (do you get a renovation loan or a construction loan? A padded 30 year mortgage? Can the VA help?). Then there was the clean-up itself and renovations. By the time we got things somewhat squared away, I was nine months pregnant. I had been so excited to be pregnant – now I felt hamstrung by it. I couldn’t tear mold out and do renovations the way I could before I had a little human inside me. I felt frustrated and, honestly, resentful that I couldn’t just enjoy my new little life in peace. Then there were the thoughts (nightmares?) of placing my baby in a bassinet in the midst of sheetrock dust, mold spores and torn up floors in the beginnings of a renovation. I balked. I told Dave to forget it. We were staying put. Not long thereafter, I had Max. Pink and perfect, my beautiful little man. I brought him home to my nest, and I was happy.

For several months, at least. Until Dave noted that the homestead fixer upper was in fact, still on the market. *sigh* It was still a beautiful piece of land in a great little town. Perfect for raising kids. So, I said “okay,” and we got the process started again.

Well, as fate would have it – and we nudged closer to closing, a young couple showed up and made a cash offer on the place. Naturally, they got it. Goodbye dream. A part of me felt relieved, a part of me disappointed and feeling guilty. Guilty that my brooding had cost us this “little slice of heaven,” as our realtor called it. And now, this new feeling of anxiety about what was next, as my husband was practically popping out of our home.

Can’t we just stay here, then?

We started looking at other fixer uppers – the only thing we could afford in this part of New Jersey – between the taxes and real estate prices. Some were better than others, some were worse. The main selling point became “there is nothing you HAVE to do right away.” Y’now, like install a septic system, a kitchen, or fix plumbing so that we could have running water.

After months of searching, we finally found our current house. Originally built as a hunting cabin, I spotted it on one beautiful spring day when I was hyped up on too much caffeine. It was well off the road, and set high on a hill. It looked majestic and cozy at same time. I loved it immediately. Never mind that it didn’t have its own driveway, there were no neighbors close by (I loved close neighbors), it had a weird catwalk “deck,” and several other issues including a tension bar through the living room to hold the walls up. There was nothing we “had to fix right away.” We could just move right in. Easy peasey.

It wasn’t that easy. Our whole plan fell apart, actually…

Jennifer Dickinson is a nurse, gardener and chicken-keeping Mother of two who was inspired to try homesteading life in her late 20s after reading an issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. You can now find her catching crayfish and millipedes with the kids, weeding her gardens and tending her chickens on her homestead in the rolling hills of the Garden State. Connect with Jennifer on Instagram and Facebook, read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here, and camp with her on Hipcamp here. 


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